Tuesday, June 24, 2008

more summer reading suggestions

Thinking more about my previous post on Edwards's dogmatics suggestions to Joseph Bellamy reminded me that in order to really understand the genius of someone's thought or art, one must study those that were of greatest influence to the person in question. This is certainly true for Edwards.

In his introduction to Volume 2 of the Yale Works, John E. Smith labored through the footnotes and lengthy quotations that Edwards uses in his treatise on Religious Affections in order to get an idea as to how Edwards's ideas were shaped and formed. Many men and works are cited, but I want to highlight a couple of them that may not be that familiar, offering them up as further suggestions for summer reading and deeper understanding of Edwards, his Religious Affections (RA hereafter)in particular.

The first of these is arguably had the greatest impact on Edwards as he was preparing for and composing this treatise (around 75 of the 132 quotations in RA are from Shepard). It is a work by Thomas Shepard, The Parable of the Ten Virgins. This, as you may have guessed, is a sermon series on Matthew 25:1-14 where Jesus tells the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Important for Edwards is Shepard's contrasting knowledge gained from rational inquiry, what Edwards calls speculative knowledge or the understanding, and knowledge that can only be gained through participation and the illumination of the mind by a medium. The wise are those who recognize that their wisdom is not of their own accord, but has been granted to them through the awakening of the mind. For those who know Edwards, however, this may seem like a false dichotomy. After all, especially seen in Edwards's famous honey metaphor, there must be both a speculative knowledge as well as a true sense that can only come through illumination. The genius of Edwards, says Smith, is seen in his development of Shepard's categories and "the skillful way in which he brought sensible experience, understanding, and will together in the concept of affections" (56). Nevertheless, The Parable is an important work for Edwards studies.

The second work I want to highlight comes from Richard Sibbes. Sibbes, in my opinion, is one of the most under-appreciated, and therefore least well known, of the English Puritans. Though not seemingly as influential as Shepard (Sibbes is only quoted once), Sibbes's The Bruised Reed had a tremendous impact on the Puritan development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. This piece is a discourse on Matthew 12:20 and concerns the nature of conversion. Important for RA is the emphasis that Sibbes places upon the relationship between Scripture and the Holy Spirit. In Sibbes's own words, "The word is nothing without the Spirit; it is animated and quickened by the Spirit" (70). This is strikingly similar to Edwards's idea that the Spirit alone awakens the mind to a true sense of divine things. In other words, one cannot see the divine glory and majesty of Scripture unless God, through his Spirit, illumines the mind of the individual, turning his mind and affections toward the divine. The Bruised Reed, therefore, is commended to the reader as an easily read and understood (be thankful I didn't single out John Owen!) primer on the Puritan doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Again, happy reading, and feel free to share what you are currently or are planning to read this summer. Especially if it pertains to Edwards studies!


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